Before bacon-maple doughnuts and chocolate-dipped potato chips snagged their fifteen minutes of stardom, fried chicken and syrup-soaked waffles paired off as the original sweet-and-salty odd couple. Who came up with this union in the first place? No one knows for sure. In his book Fried Chicken: An American Story, John T. Edge hypothesizes that Thomas Jefferson may have started the tradition when he returned from France with one of America’s first waffle irons. Edge also cites Wells Supper Club in Harlem (opened in 1938) and Roscoe’s Chicken and Waffles in Hollywood (which took wing in 1975) as popularizing the dish.
The duo is a staple brunch item in Atlanta. Why? I credit Gladys Knight’s Chicken & Waffles, which launched in 1997. (Knight’s son, Shanga Hankerson, runs the three locations.) To be frank, Gladys’s version leaves me tepid: The chicken can be stringy, and I had a cloying blueberry waffle there recently that brought back the Eggos of my childhood.
If you’re craving the combination, I suggest Sunday brunch at South City Kitchen, where the cooks griddle a flaxen, buttery Belgian-style waffle to order. Bantam Biddy in Ansley Mall makes a memorable version as well: Chicken tenders arrive scattered atop the waffle, with Steen’s cane syrup and vanilla bean applesauce for gilding. If you prefer bone-in fried chicken atop your waffle, try Bantam Biddy’s sister restaurant in Atlantic Station, Chick-a-Biddy, for lunch or dinner.
This article originally appeared in our January 2014 issue under the headline “Opposites attract.”